Tracy Morgan on Humor

tracy morganWhen people list the most necessary attributes of a leader, too often, humor is not mentioned. Humor, by itself, is not enough to sustain a leader, but when you are looking at the whole person, I’d be hard pressed to follow someone who lacks the ability to recognize the absurdity of particular situations. Tracy Morgan has this talent.

As I write this, Tracy Morgan remains in intensive care after being in a car accident this past weekend. When I thought about the leadership lessons Tracy has to teach, I looked back at all the times he’s made me laugh. Tracy has been on such shows as Martin, Saturday Night Live, The Tracy Morgan Show, and (my favorite) 30 Rock, where he was nominated for an Emmy Award.

Tracy grew up in a dangerous part of the Bronx. From his 2009 book, I Am the New Black:

Being funny has been my bulletproof vest. This mouth of mine and my goofy face have kept me from getting shot many times. Being funny wasn’t a career choice growing up, it was my way out of situations, a way to survive another day.

I’ve watched leaders diffuse potentially volatile situations with a joke. The pressure in the room was mounting and they relieved it with an off-handed anecdote. Some told funny stories, others were self-deprecating. All did it on purpose as an interpersonal management/motivational tactic.

If your life is hard, you gotta start laughing so you don’t cry, and you’ve gotta try or you’ll get nothing. We can make a change if we put in the work.

Burning the late night oil with a tight deadline in a conference room is a tinderbox waiting for a match. There is stress and sleep deprivation…not a great combination. As the leader you have a choice– turn up the heat to “motivate” the team or liven things up with some light-hearted fun. Humor puts the problems into perspective while bringing the team together.

Tracy Morgan can say, “I’m funny! As far as funny goes, I’ve got big funny!” Leaders, thankfully, don’t need to be stand up comedians. You just need to follow a few simple tips:

  • Know your team. What makes them laugh? If there’s a show they watch, do your homework. Check out a few episodes so you can better relate.
  • Be authentic. There are few things less funny than someone being fake.
  • Don’t laugh at your own jokes. It looks desperate.
  • Timing, timing, timing. There’s a time and place for jokes.
  • Don’t use jokes to relieve uncomfortable situations if the situation is a more somber affair. I once witnessed a supervisor making a joke when disciplining an employee. It made a serious conversation seem less important.
  • Don’t use insulting humor. There’s nothing funny about a boss laughing at someone else’s expense.

There are two things that will get you through life, and those things are simple and human and anyone can have them. They’re laughter and learning. If they’re a part of your life, you will always have a reason to keep living. If anyone out there has found a better way to make this world a better place to be, lay it on me, I’m here. Speak up, because I’m always listening and I’m always eager to learn.

Best wishes and a speedy recovery, Tracy. There is still laughter and learning to be had.

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